Amnesty to the invasion of public lands
Imagine the following situation: a citizen decides to occupy your home. To do so, he sends some henchmen to expel your family and break walls as a way to demonstrate his ownership. But you are not the only victim: other houses, in other cities in the country, were also invaded by the group, whose leader already is a real estate owner at expensive neighbourhoods like Copacabana, in Rio de Janeiro, or Jardins, in São Paulo.
Outraged, you go to the police to report the crime, but discover that the law is not on your side. Despite not being a homeless person, the citizen is in the queue of an “urban regularization” program and will be able to take your home paying 5% of its market value. To do so, he just has to prove that he has been occupying the house for more than a month and to declare that it was unoccupied.
No one is going to carry out an inspection to check the occupant’s statements, even though it is known that he has invaded other houses. If through satellite images, there is any sign of occupation (an open window, clothes on the clothesline) on the informed date, the invader is presumed to be telling the truth and has the right to take the house. In one month, the occupant has regularized ownership, is granted with title to the house and can sell it at the market price.
And the government is proud to be promoting the largest urban regularization program in history.
Does this story seem absurd? But it is about to become a reality if the executive act Provisional Measure* 910 (MP 910), signed by President Jair Bolsonaro, is approved by the National Congress. The difference is that we are dealing not with houses, but with large areas of public forests located mainly in the Amazon, the life most precious forest on the planet, essential for the global climate balance and responsible for sending the torrents of rain that irrigate the soy crops of Paraná state, that fill São Paulo state’s reservoirs and that feed the industries of Minas Gerais state.
Touted as a measure that will promote something positive - the “land regularization” of the region - it alters the rules currently in force to allow those who invaded areas of up to 2,500 hectares (an area the size of the Fernando de Noronha archipelago, or almost half of Manhattan island) to take them paying 5% of market value, provided they prove that those areas were occupied before December 2018, that is, less than two years ago.
The “proof” will be made from a set of statements by the invader, who will have to affirm that he occupies the area in a “meek and peaceful” way. The only check will be made by satellite images, which, however advanced they may be, will never catch the scenes of henchmen expelling small farmers or indigenous people from the land, something unfortunately common at the ends of the Amazon or the Cerrado. In short, according to the President’s proposal, vast areas, belonging to public heritage, occupied very recently, will be practically donated to the invaders, without even being checked if who is applying for the title is who actually occupies the area.
Subjected to a special commission in the National Congress, it received a favourable opinion from Senator Irajá Abreu (Tocantins state), which, oddly enough, made the situation even worse: he opened up the possibility that people who already have farms in other regions, or who have other invaded areas, can benefit from the regularization rules. Even those who have already been granted with public land and sold it can join the queue again.
MP 910 is the greatest gift ever given to those who are in the business of invasion and sale of public lands in the country.According to data from the Institute of Man and Environment of the Amazon (Imazon), only in the fiscal waiver (the difference between the sale price of the land and the market value), the country would lose something around R$ 88 billion. But this is not the most serious: in rewarding the illicit, the bill encourages the continued theft of public lands.
More than a third of the clearing of forests in the Amazon is due to land speculation, that is, gangs of land grabbers who invade and deforest land not to plant or produce any wealth, but only to legitimize the occupation. As is well known in the regions devastated by land grabbing, “the owner is the one who deforests”.
If approved, this Provisional Measure may, without any exaggeration, mean a death sentence for the Amazon - and for Brazil as a consequence. In 2019, with little enforcement and the expectation that the federal government would regularize illegal activities, deforestation exploded, breaking a record of 10 years. This year, even in the middle of the pandemic, tractors are still going strong, and unfortunately, we are on track to beat a nefarious record of almost two decades.
As a result, we are dangerously approaching the point of no return estimated by scientists - if we clear more than 25% of the forest, it can enter a vicious drought-burn-dry cycle that will transform it in less than 50 years into a pale reminder of what it is today. If this happens, the tap that sends rain to Paraná, São Paulo or Minas Gerais will be closed, and my daughters’ generation will suffer the consequences.
This is not an inevitable fate. We don’t need to deforest anymore. Brazil has a vast area of underused pastures (63 million hectares) in already consolidated regions, which, with a little investment, could be used to double the area we use today for agriculture (22 million hectares) and still increase the meat production.
In other words, we have stocks of land for over 40 years of agricultural expansion without having to touch a single tree, as long as we use technology already available. But who is going to invest if it is possible to get cheap land in the Amazon?
The measure is an incentive to the worst in the country, a subvention for the wrongdoing that diverts resources from what is right. It is not by chance that we see an epidemic of invasions of indigenous lands, which are public lands, but that has always been well protected. As an invader said to a reporter on a primary television channel: “We invaded because we have government support”.
At a time when Brazilian agribusiness is under severe scrutiny by international buyers - who are suspicious of our agriculture’s real commitment to sustainability -, it is clear that changing the law to grant amnesty to land grabbers who have illegally deforested and often have blood on their hands; it will be like shooting oneself in the foot.
Along with the increase in deforestation, this news will put all rural producers on the dock, equaling the 99% who acts correctly with the 1% who are criminals. For the sake of Brazil, Congress should not approve PM 910.
*Raul do Valle is WWF-Brazil's director of public policies.
**The Provisional Measure (MP) is a legal instrument with the force of law, adopted by the President of the Republic for a maximum of 120 days, in cases of relevance and urgency. It produces immediate effects, but depends on approval by the National Congress for definitive transformation into a law.